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Brunswick Restaurant's Name Ensares it in Legal Battle
11/21/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter

A legal battle of uneven proportions is brewing in Maine. It pits a small familly-run restaurant against a national chain of high-end eateries and nightclubs that operates venues in New York and Las Vegas.  Tom Porter has more.

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Brunswick Restaurant's Name Ensares it in Legal Ba
Originally Aired: 11/21/2012 5:30 PM

tao las vegas

A visit to the Web site of the Vegas club TAO (left)  shows hundreds of revelers dancing to loud techno music while scantily-clad dancers strut their stuff and hang from trapezes.  TAO Vegas is owned by TAO Licensing, of Delaware, which operates venues frequented by millions of people a year, including many celebrities.

TAO Vegas, according to Bloomberg Business Week, is the most successful restaurant in the U.S. and grosses close to $60 million a year.

Meanwhile, in the small college town Brunswick, TAO Restaurant (below right) seats 40 people and has been offering what it calls Pan-Asian style cuisine with a touch of Maine since it opened five months ago.

Taking a quick break from prepping lunch, co-owner and chef Cara Stadler explains that the name of restaurant was chosen by her Chinese grandfather.

TAO 3"We were looking for a name and he told us about 'Taohuayuan," which is the old Chinese fable about man who finds paradise in a peach grove, and that is how we chose the name," she says. "So it's sort of reminiscent of we wanted to create a place where people could go to escape the rest of the world."

Tom Porter: "But you've not been able to escape the rest of the world have you?"

Cara  Stadler: "No."

TAO has had to defend its name in a trademark infringement lawsuit launched in October by TAO Licensing. Attorneys for TAO Licensing declined to comment for this story, but according to their complaint, the TAO venues are "well-known for the quality of their food, service, and atmosphere."

The claim is that by using the same name, the Brunswick venue is trading on that goodwill, and attracting customers who may be misled.  TAO'S owners reject that  idea as absurd.  Cecile Stadler is Cara's mother, and the restaurant's other co-owner.  She says that although the name uses the same letters in English translation, the two TAOs are very different.

"We like the name and we like the connotation of it, and it's not at all the same word, the same character, the same concept as the restaurants, or the nightclubs in Las Vegas and New York," Cecile Stadler says.

The other TAO, she says, uses a different character and means "way" or "path." Furthermore, she adds, the two names don't actually sound the same in Chinese. "Ours is TAO - it goes up.  It means 'peach.' it's a completely different character. Theirs is TAO (with a 'd' sound) - it's falling."

Attorney James Goggin of Verrill Dana in Portland is representing TAO of Brunswick on a pro bono basis. He says the other flaw in the complaint is this:  "They allege that consumers in Brunswick, Maine, would  likely be confused into thinking that when they were going into the restaurant in Brunswick, that they were actually going into the restaurant in Las Vegas, which on its face is ridiculous," Goggin says.

Goggin says the TAO Group has asserted claims against other restaurants using the TAO name. But, he adds, there are many, many more restaurants using the name. "We did a quick Google search on 'TAO restaurant' and we got 270,000 results in 0.27 seconds," he says.

And this, he says, weakens the strength of the trademark. Restaurant owners Cecile and Cara Stadler say they've had many messages of support from the Brunswick community.  Local resident Eileen Boardman describes the lawsuit as a case of corporate bullying, "where someone with more assets and deeper pockets are using the legal system to take advantage of small business, small business owners."

Attorney James Goggin says the next stage will involve requests for more evidence from both sides. He doesn't expect it will come to court before next fall.

Photos of TAO in Brunswick by Tom Porter.


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